Waste Incineration Facilities — [Sir Roger Gale in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:25 am on 11th February 2020.

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Photo of Peter Grant Peter Grant Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe), Shadow SNP Deputy Spokesperson (Treasury - Chief Secretary) 10:25 am, 11th February 2020

I am pleased to be able to begin the summing up in this debate. I will try to be brief, because I think that the hon. Members who have spoken want the Minister to be given a significant amount of time to respond. It is quite clear from the number of hon. Members who have spoken, and from the unanimity with which they have spoken, that there is a major problem.

It struck me that anyone who seriously believes that Britain is a model of modern democracy in action should watch this debate. Something must have failed in this democracy for so many people, from so many different political standpoints, to have come here and said, “No, we can’t have this.” How did we get to a position where the planning framework, energy production regulation and all the rest of it are so out of touch with the real people for whose benefit the energy is supposed to be created? I will leave that question there, because it is a much bigger question than I can answer today.

I congratulate Mrs Hodgson on securing the debate and on the way she introduced it, and I congratulate everybody else who has spoken, because there has been a remarkable degree of unanimity. It seems to me that there is a major problem here: if it is decided by the Government that energy from waste is an essential part of the United Kingdom’s energy production to meet the country’s needs, where are we going to build those facilities? If all the facilities that people are complaining about today were scrapped and planning applications were put in in 10 other constituencies around the UK, we would have 10 other MPs complaining, backed by 10 other sets of councils, and so on.

It is not good enough just to say, “They are a bunch of nimbys.” There are clearly concerns about the incineration of industrial and domestic waste that go well beyond the attitude of “not in my backyard”. I think it was Caroline Nokes who commented that she had been assured that the danger to her constituents was less than it would be if they lived next to a major road. If I was a parent worried about my children living next to an incinerator, telling me that some other poor MP’s children or constituents were going to be made even sicker than mine would not be a particularly sensitive or sensible way to present the case.

I mentioned some of the steps that have been taken by the Scottish Government. I will list some of them and hope that the Minister will either confirm that these provisions are in place just now in England, or say whether there is any intention to introduce them. The Scottish Government are taking steps to try to get a balance between our obvious need for energy and the even more obvious desire to produce and distribute it in a way that does not affect people’s health.

For example, that the Scottish Government have already put a ban on the landfill or incineration of anything collected for recycling, because there have been so many scandals where companies would collect stuff that people had carefully separated out for recycling and then throw it into a hole in the ground because doing so was cheaper than recycling it. From 2025 there will be a ban in Scotland on any local authority sending biodegradable waste to landfill and, as I have mentioned, any new incinerators that are being planned now will be required to separate out plastics and metals before the stuff gets incinerated.

To my mind, those provisions do not go far enough. We should look to move quickly to a point where our energy supply does not rely on energy from waste at all, because it does not appear to me as though there is any way to indiscriminately burn waste material without creating an unacceptable health hazard to those who live close by. As has been pointed out, children and those who are more active tend to be the ones who suffer. I thought Jane Hunt spoke very well about the almost ridiculous fact that for people living near an incinerator, exercise might actually make them more ill, rather than helping them to get healthy.

I have a couple of questions for the Minister. First, we are covered at the moment by the European waste incineration directive. Can she give an absolute, unconditional guarantee that there will be no lessening of the standards contained in that directive once we have left the European Union? There will be pressure from big business to relax those standards, as there will be to relax a lot of other standards that are there to protect us.

Secondly, what assessment have the Government made of the amount of energy that we are likely to need to produce from waste to fill the gap in the United Kingdom’s energy needs? It is all very well for us to sit here and say, “I do not want this here or that there,” but if the Government’s energy planning has not provided for enough production to meet anticipated consumption, we have a problem. The power stations and incinerators will have to be built somewhere.

My final point, which has already been made by other hon. Members, is that if our energy supply depends on having waste to burn, we will have to keep producing waste. That is a bad thing. We should be reducing the amount of waste we produce. The fact that waste can be used to create energy does not make its production a good thing. We heard some good examples of that, and Jim Shannon listed some steps that have been taken in Northern Ireland. As a priority, we should reduce the amount of waste that we produce. If that meant that it was no longer economical to build an incinerator to burn waste because waste was no longer being produced, that would be a good thing.

Can the Minister tell us what assessment the Government have made of the amount of energy that is likely to be produced from waste in future? How does that fit with the United Kingdom’s ambition to become a zero-waste society?